In response to mass unemployment caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak, Denver City Council on Monday night is expected to pass a proclamation calling on Gov. Jared Polis to cancel rent and mortgage payments for residents who are currently unable to pay.

Denver joins a growing list of metros, including Boston and Seattle, that have called for similar actions. The state of New York has already suspended mortgage payments, and there are efforts to extend the waiver to renters.

Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued temporary orders to suspend evictions, but the majority of council members, including Robin Kniech, Chris Hinds, Candi CdeBaca, Kevin Flynn, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Herndon, Debbie Ortega, Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres, argue it’s not enough.

“No Coloradan or small business who is unable to pay through no fault of their own should be required to pay rent during this health emergency, not should they accumulate debt or interest for unpaid rent,” according to the proclamation, which was written by Kniech and Hinds.

Conor Cahil, a spokesman for Polis' office, said that the governor "does not have any legal ability to suspend rent or evictions outright, as these are private contracts between individuals and institutions and suspending the sanctity of contract is not within the emergency powers of any governor or President."

Polis has taken some of the "strongest steps" of any governor across the country in using his legal authority on behalf of renters, Cahill added, and he "encourages the council members to join with the state in making rental assistance more widely available during this time."

"We have to move beyond recognizing the tight spot that Stay-At-Home orders have put our residents in and move toward actually giving them some relief, and you can’t do it by just a moratorium on rent, it has to also be on mortgages," Torres told Colorado Politics in an email. "Everyone has a bill to pay. But millions became unemployed overnight, through no fault of their own. All we can do at the City of Denver is intervene on evictions, we should help to ensure people don’t get pushed to that extreme."

It’s unclear how many other council members will support the proclamation Monday night, but Stacy Simonet, a spokesperson for the council’s legislative services, said that proclamations are “typically” unanimous.  

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, many residents already struggled to keep a roof over their head, with an average rent of $1,475. About 46% of renters pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs, according to city documents.

Some Denver landlords have worked with tenants to reduce rent and extend payment deadlines, city officials say, but others have continued to demand payment, file evictions and refuse to accommodate renters’ requests. 

More than 127,000 residents across the state have filed for unemployment, according to the Colorado Department of Labor, which is higher than the number of claims filed in all of 2019.

Denver saw a 245% increase in applicants for rental and utility assistance in March, according to city documents. But, nevertheless, nearly 84% of tenants paid rent for April, according to a survey of 300,000 apartment homes conducted by the Colorado Apartment Association.

Michelle Lyng, a spokesperson for CAA, said the organization would not support a rent freeze, but that "no rental housing providers are removing people from their homes."

Coalition organizers on Monday expressed their support for Denver City Council’s proclamation.

“The Governor’s eviction stay, while welcome, is the quiet before the storm,” Josh Downey, president of the Denver Area Labor Federation, said in a statement. “Once the stay is lifted, thousands of people will no longer have homes. It’s going to lead to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. It is simply not fair and not responsible to order people to stay at home and not to work but not have relief for their basic needs, like paying rent and mortgage. People simply don’t have the savings to ride this out.”

“Nearly 70 percent of our members lost their jobs in the past month,” Kevin Abels, the Denver chapter president of Unite Here Local 223, said in a statement. “Across Colorado, hospitality workers are suddenly jobless and struggling to pay their rents, mortgages, and utilities. That’s why we applaud the actions of Denver city council tonight.”

The city's proclamation also calls on national leaders, including Rep. Diana DeGette as well as Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, to work with President Donald Trump to pass a federal moratorium on all rent for those who cannot pay at this time. 

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